Positively Editorial

How to Demonstrate Understanding in a Proposal

A common item in a Request for Proposal (RFP) is for you to demonstrate your understanding of an element of the RFP. For example, the Soft Rock Café might ask that respondents “Demonstrate your understanding of the material requirements detailed in Section 5.” We, the proposal team for Eating Implement Technologies (EI Tech), need to respond that our hot new product, the Spork, is within those requirements. How do we go about that?

It’s actually very simple. We show, not tell.

Let’s assume Section 5 looks like this:

Section 5: Material Requirements

  1. All eating utensils must be free of poisons and carcinogens.
  2. Eating utensils cannot weigh more than 1 pound per gross (144 utensils).
  3. No animal products may be used in the manufacture of any eating utensils.

Alright, so how do we show that we understand their these requirements? We could write something like this:

Understanding of Material Requirements

EI Tech understands the material requirements of Section 5. Our suggested custom Soft Rock Café Sporks are free of poisons and carcinogens, weigh less than 1 pound per gross, and are completely vegan.

I do not, however, suggest doing this.

Flip it around. Pretend you’re the client. Is this what you’d want to hear? Yeah, okay, they’re showing they read the RFP and can recite it back, but I’m looking for a little more than the bare minimum. To win with an understanding like this, you’re relying on no other proposal going above and beyond to show they really, truly understand Soft Rock Café’s material requirements.

Let’s look  back at what they’ve listed. Why have they chosen these three things as important? Soft Rock Café hasn’t included a lot of explanation in this section, but it’s pretty easy to intuit why they’re concerned with these. Item 1 is about customer health, Item 2 is about shipping costs and/or making sure a rowdy toddler can’t do too much damage with a spoon, and Item 3 is showing concern for vegans who dine at their establishment. In real life, we could probably gain more insight from looking at the goals (hopefully) laid out earlier in the proposal or consulting with the co-worker who’s been working on this account and (hopefully) knows what’s what, but for example purposes we’ll pretend this is all we have to work with.

Now that we’ve determined why they’ve made these requirements, we can show our understanding more fully. Better yet, we can work in some additional salesmanship while we’re at it.

Understanding of Material Requirements

EI Tech understands that every aspect of the Soft Rock Café dining experience is crafted with guests’ expectations and safety in mind. Our proposed custom Soft Rock Café Spork reflects this in all ways. We have selected pure titanium for the material, which is not only non-toxic but biocompatible with the human body. There is no possibility of a diner ever becoming sick from a Soft Rock Café Spork.


The Spork is lightweight, with each utensil weighing less than a twelfth of an ounce. Not only does this mean inexpensive shipping rates and less damage to plateware, but customers of all strengths will be able to easily lift their Spork. We use the Kroll Process to manufacture the metal, which at no point involves any animals. Vegans may dine with confidence.

Then, just to drive the point home (and make sure any exec just skimming the pictures sees your compliance), include a simple graphic summing up everything from the first version.


EI Tech's proposed Soft Rock Café Spork meets all of the material requirements of Section 5.

EI Tech’s proposed Soft Rock Café Spork meets all of the material requirements of Section 5, assuring diners of a great meal.

Comparing the two different write ups, see how just a little insight and salesmanship makes the second version sound much more inviting? Both are saying that the proposed Spork will meet the requirements, but the second shows that you really understand the requirements. This is crucial to clients.

If you understand, you’re more likely to be able to craft the perfect solution to their problem. After all, if they were experts themselves they wouldn’t need you, right? What if there’s an error somewhere in their list of requirements or later communication? They want confidence that you’ll be able to catch it. What if there’s an important aspect they haven’t considered, like color? If you understand that these Sporks are part of Soft Rock Café’s new branding initiative, you can let them know about the best options for showcasing their brand.

Ideally, by showing your understanding you show yourself as a partner of their venture who cares just as much about the ideal solution as they do, and that’s what wins proposals.

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